OUSTON, July 8 - Military records that
could help establish President
Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air
National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently
destroyed, according to the Pentagon.
It said the payroll records of "numerous service members,"
including former First Lt. Bush, had been ruined in 1996 and 1997 by
the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to
salvage deteriorating microfilm. No back-up paper copies could be
found, it added in notices dated June 25.
The destroyed records cover three months of a period in 1972 and
1973 when Mr. Bush's claims of service in Alabama are in question.
The disclosure appeared to catch some experts, both pro-Bush and
con, by surprise. Even the retired lieutenant colonel who studied
Mr. Bush's records for the White House, Albert C. Lloyd of Austin,
said it came as news to him.
The loss was announced by the Defense Department's Office of
Freedom of Information and Security Review in letters to The New
York Times and other news organizations that for nearly half a year
have sought Mr. Bush's complete service file under the open-records
There was no mention of the loss, for example, when White House
officials released hundreds of pages of the President's military
records last February in an effort to stem Democratic accusations
that he was "AWOL" for a time during his commitment to fly at home
in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director who has
said that the released records confirmed the president's fulfillment
of his National Guard commitment, did not return two calls for a
The disclosure that the payroll records had been destroyed came
in a letter signed by C. Y. Talbott, chief of the Pentagon's Freedom
of Information Office, who forwarded a CD-Rom of hundreds of records
that Mr. Bush has previously released, along with images of
punch-card records. Sixty pages of Mr. Bush's medical file and some
other records were excluded on privacy grounds, Mr. Talbott
He said in the letter that he could not provide complete payroll
records, explaining, "The Defense Finance and Accounting Service
(DFAS) has advised of the inadvertent destruction of microfilm
containing certain National Guard payroll records."
He went on: "In 1996 and 1997, DFAS engaged with limited success
in a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. During this process
the microfilm payroll records of numerous service members were
damaged, including from the first quarter of 1969 (Jan. 1 to March
31) and the third quarter of 1972 (July 1 to Sept. 30). President
Bush's payroll records for these two quarters were among the records
destroyed. Searches for backup paper copies of the missing records
Mr. Talbott's office would not respond to questions, saying that
further information could be provided only through another Freedom
of Information application.
But Bryan Hubbard, a spokesman for Defense finance agency in
Denver, said the destruction occurred as the office was trying to
unspool 2,000-foot rolls of fragile microfilm. Mr. Hubbard said he
did not know how many records were lost or why the loss had not been
For Mr. Bush, the 1969 period when he was training to be a pilot,
is not in dispute. But in May 1972, he moved to Alabama to work on a
political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service
there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they had no
recollection of ever seeing him there. The most evidence the White
House has been able to find are records showing Mr. Bush was paid
for six days in October and November 1972, without saying where, and
the record of a dental exam at a Montgomery, Ala., air base on Jan.
On June 22, The Associated Press filed suit in federal court in
New York against the Pentagon and the Air Force to gain access to
all the president's military records.
The lost payroll records stored in Denver might have answered
some questions about whether he fulfilled his legal commitment,
critics who have written about the subject said in interviews.
"Those are records we've all been interested in," said James
Moore, author of a recent book, "Bush's War for Re-election," which
takes a critical view of Mr. Bush's service record. "I think it's
curious that the microfiche could resolve what days Mr. Bush worked
and what days he was paid, and suddenly that is gone."
But Mr. Moore said the president could still authorize the
release of other withheld records that would shed light on his
Among the issues still disputed is why, according to released
records, Mr. Bush was suspended from flying on Aug. 1, 1972. The
reason cited in the records is "failure to accomplish annual medical
Mr. Bartlett, the White House spokesman, said in February that
Mr. Bush felt he did not need to take the physical as he was no
longer flying planes in Alabama. Mr. Lloyd, the retired colonel who
studied the records, gave a similar explanation in an interview.
But Mr. Lloyd said he was surprised to be told of the destruction
of the pay records that might have resolved some questions.